President Donald Trump’s once-tight grip on Republican lawmakers is showing signs of slipping as he falls further behind Democrat Joe Biden, making the GOP path to keeping control of the Senate increasingly fraught.
Republicans continue to line up behind Trump where their core interests coincide, such as solidifying a conservative majority on the Supreme Court by quickly confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett. GOP candidates also are eager to tout tax cuts and deregulation under the president, longtime campaign themes that pre-date Trump.
But the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his attempt to force through a stimulus deal with Democrats are exposing fractures at a time when Republicans are facing grim Election Day prospects in three weeks.
Every recent national poll shows Trump trailing well behind Biden in the presidential race — 10 percentage points in the RealClear Politicsaverage. Republicans have little chance of gaining on Democrats in the House, and may end up losing more seats. The party is at serious risk of losing its 53-47 Senate majority.
Direct, public criticism of Trump is still rare. GOP candidates need his fervently loyal base in an election where Democratic voters are motivated. Yet if they don’t try to create some distance with the White House they fully tie their fates to Trump.
“I think most Senate Republicans will privately acknowledge what everyone else seems to know: the president’s not going to win reelection and they are going to be dealing with a President Biden,” said former Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who retired in 2018 after Trump loyalists turned on him for criticizing the president. “He’s put some of my former colleagues in an untenable position.”
Trump’s erratic moves on the stimulus in particular have flummoxed Republicans, who were already divided among themselves over how big a package they’d agree to with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats.
First he ordered an end to negotiations until after the elections, which endangered Republican Senator Susan Collins quickly labeled a “huge mistake.” Days later, Trump was pounding the table for a major deal.
But when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows drew up a $1.8 trillion administration proposal for talks with Pelosi, many Senate Republicans balked.
Trump undercut GOP lawmakers again on Tuesday a short time after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced plans for a vote on a narrow piece of stimulus legislation, with a tweet.
STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!5:01 PM · Oct 13, 2020
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